Gay couple to join Japan legal challenge after marriage bid fails

by Michael Taylor | @MickSTaylor | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 18 January 2019 12:00 GMT

Ai Nakajima and Kristina Baumann at their wedding in Berlin, Germany in September 2018. Credit: Ai Nakajima

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The German-Japanese couple hope to force Japan to legalise same-sex weddings, after failing to register their marriage

By Michael Taylor

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A couple who failed in an attempt to register their same-sex marriage in Japan vowed on Friday to take legal action to force the country to legalise gay weddings.

Ai Nakajima and Kristina Baumann, who live in Yokohama, near Tokyo, attempted to register their marriage with local authorities on Wednesday after marrying in Germany last year.

"We don't want anything special - just the same rights as any other married couple," Baumann, who is German and studying in Japan, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Japan's laws on LGBT+ issues are relatively liberal compared with many Asian countries, with homosexual sex legal since 1880, but being openly gay remains largely taboo.

Same-sex marriage remains illegal, though in some areas gay couples can get a certificate that grants them similar rights to married couples.

Couples who marry overseas are required to register their marriage within three months of returning to Japan, Baumann said on Friday.

Without the same rights as other married couples, Baumann said she could be deported if she falls ill or when her studies end and if she fails to find work.

"We just want to be able to live a normal life and build a future as a family in Japan," said Nakajima. "This discrimination and unfairness is causing our lives instability, and our future is very fragile."

Foreigners working in Japan who have entered into a same-sex civil partnership or marriage with another foreigner can apply for a visa for their partners, but a gay Japanese person married to a foreigner cannot, said Nakajima.

"It is discrimination against our own people," she said. "What kind of crazy law is that?"

Socially conservative attitudes prevail across most of Asia, and deep-rooted biases have hamstrung progress on gay rights.

No countries in Asia allow same-sex couples to marry or enter civil unions of any kind and opponents of same-sex marriage say such unions could destroy society and family institutions.

However, India scrapped a colonial-era ban on gay sex last year and moves are under way in Thailand to debate allowing civil partnerships.

Hong Kong also recently agreed to recognise overseas same-sex partnerships when granting dependent visas, although Taiwan voters rejected the chance to legalise same-sex marriages in a referendum late last year.

Nakajima and Baumann, who entered into a civil partnership in 2016 before marrying last year, will now take part in legal action against the Japanese government to force them to allow same-sex marriages.

The lawsuit, which involves 10 same-sex couples and is due to be filed in mid-February, will claim that the Japanese government is not meeting its human rights obligations.

Countries must offer the same rights to all citizens "regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression", said Ging Cristobal, project coordinator at OutRight Action International in Manila. (Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Hugo Greenhalgh and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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